Composting Toilets and Water Protection

08.09.2020 10:26

This blog post was written by our intern Anna (16 y.o.), who learned a lot about sustainability and the use of natural resources during her student internship at Kildwick. She shares her findings in a post series.

Eine umgekippte Plastikflasche liegt auf einem Betonboden und Scrabble-Buchstaben buchstabieren die Worte

I think it’s totally exciting, for I have always believed there’s enough water at any given time, period. When I'm thirsty and ran out of bottled water, there’s tap water just within reach. My research left me surprised. Water will be a precious resource very soon.

In Germany, ground water and source water are protected and controlled in a very thorough manner, unlike in many other countries in the world. As a result, tap water is safe to drink in almost every corner in Germany. German tap water is considered very clean and very safe.

Even though more than two thirds of the total surface area of the Earth are covered with water, more than 97% of it is salt water. Fresh drinkable water is scarce with only about 2.5%. Fresh water is what we need for consumption and agriculture. Fresh water is found in rivers, lakes, glaciers or in the soil – as ground water. And this is where the first problem comes into play: there are nearly no countries on Earth where ground water is not contaminated.

The water is polluted by our excrements, by industrial and household waste and chemicals such as fertilisers. It’s estimated that by 2025, 3.5 billion people will be experiencing water-stressed conditions, with water contamination as one of the main causes.

Water contamination and toilet flushes

An ordinary flushing toilet, the commonplace thing we all know from our flats and houses, is the gateway to additional contamination with medication and other chemical residues. Many pharmaceutical residues are excreted – the urine, diluted with drinking water, is flushed down the toilet and goes to a sewage treatment plant. Using complex mechanical, biological and chemical processes, the contaminated water is processed and purified, then returned to the waters. However, some substances, such as antibiotic residues and microplastics, can’t be filtered properly and completely.

Not a „fun“ fact: While about 70 % of wastewater get cleansed by sewage treatment plants in industrialised countries, in less developed countries this number amounts to only about 8 %.

Water pollution – a global issue

The numbers are alarming – 18 % of the world's population is dependant on surrounding waters that are heavily polluted and contaminated. This poses an extreme threat to human health. About 3 % of deaths worldwide (15 million people, including children under 5 y.o.) are attributed to polluted water, with poor sanitation and hygiene as main reasons.

And water pollution is a global problem. In China, for example, more than half of the ground water is polluted. Almost all lakes in Europe are threatened by pollution. In Africa, 70 % of industrial waste including that contaminated with extremely toxic substances are simply dumped into water unprocessed, thus poisoning drinking water sources. In South America, 70 % of used and polluted water are returned to rivers without any treatment. In North Shore City in New Zealand alone more than 12,000 kilograms of dirt and over 75,000 litres of chemical detergents are discharged into the wastewater – every year. Almost 70 million people in Bangladesh are exposed to a highly toxic polluted ground water with 2 million tonnes of wastewater, industrial and agricultural waste simply dumped untreaded into waters.

In einem schmutzig schwarzem See schwimmt ein toter Fisch.

No-flush toilets – what they got to do with water protection

Although there is little that you can do about the pollution of water sources elsewhere right now, you can at least contribute to local water protection – every day.

One of the ways to protect source water are the so-called dry toilets or no-flush toilets. Here, the excrements are not waterflushed but instead separately collected and re-used. You can use the urine (highly diluted) as fertiliser for your plants, the feces is composted until it turns into valuable humus. You can then use it as natural fertiliser in your garden.

What else can you do to help protect the water?

Here are a few very effective and yet simple ways to handle water in a more conscious and sustainable way:

  • Stop the water when brushing your teeth or lathering soap
  • Dispose of your pharmaceuticals correctly (take them back to the pharmacy) and never flush them down the toilet
  • Avoid microplastics – for example, don’t use skincare products with synthetic particles such as peelings, wash your synthetic clothes using fiber-filtering washing bags, ditch single-use plastics such as drinking straws
  • Use household detergents that contain little or no synthetic ingredients and are bio-degradable, such as the beeta environmentally sustainable dishwashing liquid
  • Love DIY? Make your own detergents
  • Don’t pour your cleaning water into your garden
  • Don’t use synthetic gardening products
  • During winter, sand is a great alternative to thawing salt